Samuel Buck (1696-1779), Drawings from the Yorkshire Sketchbook in Another volume of Mr. Warburton's collections for Yorkshire, containing a great many views of towns, ruins, gentlemen's seats, &c. chiefly pen and ink sketches, several of which are very neatly executed, 1719-20, pen and brown ink, Lansdowne MS 914, f.209

The brothers Buck

Alice Rylance-Watson provides an overview of the work of brothers Samuel and Nathaniel Buck: two topographers whose prints popularised prospects of Britain in the 18th century.

Yorkshireman Samuel Buck (1696-1779) and his brother Nathaniel (active 1724-59) were the nationwide ‘topographers par excellence’ of the mid-18th century. Between 1726 and 1753 the brothers created 423 engravings of national monasteries, abbeys, castles and ruins and 81 views of towns and cities. Alongside these engravings, the British Library possesses Samuel Buck’s earliest surviving sketchbook, alongside loose preparatory sketches as well as advertisement handbills published by the Bucks themselves.[1]

Over a period of 34 years the brothers continuously toured England and Wales, using the warmer months to gather information on the lay of the land in annotated sketches from which finished prospects were developed and engraved. The prints were sold in sets, usually arranged by county or in a group of regional counties, to a clientele comprised of antiquarians and members of the nobility, gentry and clergy. Later impressions from the Bucks’ original copperplates were also retailed from 1774 by the leading London print seller Robert Sayer, who made them available in a variety of marketable and affordable configurations from loose sheets to sets to bound volumes. The circulation of the Bucks topographical imagery was wide and sustained, their prints serving as ‘the prototypes of thousands of derivatives’ produced by a community of topographical artists, book and magazine illustrators for years to come.[2]

Portrait of Samuel and Nathaniel Buck

Richard Houston after Joseph Highmore, Samuel Buck; Nathaniel Buck, (London: R. Sayer, 1774), mezzotint, platemark 22.9 x 32.9 cm, British Museum, London, K,67.58

This portrait of Samuel and Nathaniel Buck shows Samuel holding a finished topographical print and Nathaniel working on design for a prospect on a drawing board

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In a double portrait of the brothers by Joseph Highmore, Samuel, amiable and rotund, is depicted looking directly at the viewer. He holds a rolled topographical print, one of the Bucks’ own, which unfurls towards the ground. Nathaniel stands at Samuel’s side holding a drawing board and pencil. He looks into the distance.

Richard Houston’s engraving after Highmore’s painting features a glowing panegyric to the pair, inscribed below the portrait. It reads:

Long, Ancient Structures and ennobled Domes The Work of Ages past, neglected lay Till you, O BUCKS! By emulation fired Snatched from th’inexorable Jaws of Time The Mouldering Ruins of each loftie Pile To future Ages shall your fame be known And your great Works immortalize your Names While others, by Misfortune, scarce survive You, Phoenix like, by your own RUINS live.

The brothers’ abiding legacy, according to Houston’s tribute, was their project to immortalise ancient sites vulnerable to the ‘inexorable Jaws of Time’. Their engravings are framed as lasting indexes of nationally important architectural relics: silently ‘mouldering’ piles or centuries-ruined abbeys. Each print preserved these buildings for posterity and historical documentation. Joseph Strutt (1749-1802), an influential engraver and antiquary, named the Bucks’ prints as often ‘the only views we will ever have’ of old buildings lost to time.[3]

Drawings from the Yorkshire Sketchbook

Samuel Buck (1696-1779), Drawings from the Yorkshire Sketchbook in Another volume of Mr. Warburton's collections for Yorkshire, containing a great many views of towns, ruins, gentlemen's seats, &c. chiefly pen and ink sketches, several of which are very neatly executed, 1719-20, pen and brown ink, Lansdowne MS 914, f.209

The British Library holds Samuel Buck’s earliest surviving work, a sketchbook of his home county, Yorkshire, which he used on a series of tours between 1719 and 1720

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This antiquarian imperative formed the foundations the Bucks’ careers, beginning from Samuel’s first professional ventures with elite antiquarian patrons in 1719. Via the wealthy Leeds merchant and antiquary Ralph Thoresby, 23-year-old Samuel was engaged that year to produce illustrations for Thoresby’s antiquarian friend, John Warburton, who was compiling an ambitious new history of Yorkshire. The British Library holds these sketches, which show country houses, abbeys and prospects.[4] This began Samuel Buck’s longstanding association with England’s most prominent antiquaries. Warburton is thought to have introduced the artist to the founding members of the newly formed Society of Antiquaries, headed by William Stukeley (1687-1765), its first Secretary. Stukeley was pioneer of early investigations into the prehistoric sites at Stonehenge and Avebury, and his celebrated survey of the British antiquarian landscape, the Itinerarium Curiosum Centuria I & II, is regarded as a seminal work in the discipline. The Society met every Wednesday at the Mitre Tavern on the Strand end of London’s Fleet Street. Buck’s drawings of Fountain’s Abbey in Yorkshire were shown at a Society meeting in 1723; the Fellows approved and commissioned their engraving. Not long after Samuel was regularly appearing at meetings, making a name for himself within an exclusive group of learned, wealthy and influential men.

Every summer Society Fellows would tour the country on horseback, in pairs and groups, to explore antiquarian sites, filling notebooks and sketchbooks with valuable historical data. Stukeley ‘engaged’ Samuel Buck to join him on two such tours, though the exact terms of this engagement are vague.[5] We know that Buck incurred considerable personal expenses on his trips to Lincoln and Nottinghamshire.[6]

Buck’s associations with Society members nonetheless led to the development of his first and most significant project: the Antiquities series, for which a collection of 24 views of ruins in the county of York was first proposed in 1724. It is at this important juncture that Nathaniel Buck appears, as chief canvasser for subscriptions to the series. Nathaniel gathered a client base for his brother’s prints in the lively London print selling area of Soho, at the aptly named Golden Buck on Warwick Street. He also personally called at the houses of potential subscribers: local lords of the manor and eminent members of the aristocracy, many of whom were friends of William Stukeley and key figures in the Society of Antiquaries.[7] Of the Bucks’ first set of patrons Robert Sayer commented that a ‘more respectable list of Subscribers is rarely seen’.[8]

The North East Prospect of Louth Park Abbey

N.E. View of Louth Park Abbey near Louth, by Samuel Buck.

Founded in 1139, the Cistercian Louth Park Abbey fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries

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The Yorkshire views, a number of which were derived from Buck’s original sketches for Warburton, were published in 1726. The next phase was more ambitious: to record antiquities throughout England, in an encyclopaedic manner. From 1726 to 1742 the brothers travelled the country recording each county’s ‘venerable edifices’ in carefully observed perspective drawings.[9]The prints show that both brothers drew views and engraved finished compositions interchangeably.

The Bucks’ continuous summer tours amassed 17 sets of views, each usually comprising 24 plates, from every county in England and Wales except Radnorshire. The sets were priced at two guineas and issued on an annual basis. This was in contrast to the more affordable and consumable format available which offered smaller-scale topographical views released monthly, costing around one shilling per set. Andrew Kennedy writes that the Bucks’ scheme rather priced out the general public, as the prints only became available to either dedicated antiquarians or the wealthy.[10]

The west view of Dolbadern Castle, in the county of Caernarvon

West View of Dolbadern Castle, by Buck.

Built by Llywelyn the Great in the early 13th century, Dolbadarn Castle was strategically important, controlling the Llanberis Pass

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An analysis of the subscription lists and the dedications which appear at the rear of each engraved prospect shows that the Bucks catered to an elite and exclusive clientele, and that the brothers’ selection of historical sites was partial to the private interests of its members. Landowning subscribers were particularly receptive to buying a set of prints if one of their own properties was depicted, and if their ownership of it was specified in a flattering personal tribute contained in the dedication of the print. 15 out of the 24 plates published in the 1726 Yorkshire series, for example, were dedicated to noblemen, gentlemen or archbishops whose properties were pictured.

Subscriber Sackville Tufton, 7th Earl of Thanet, was proprietor of three sites chosen by the Bucks for their later 1739 series on Westmoreland’s antiquities. The views of Pendragon, Appleby and Brough Castles are each adorned with fittingly deferential dedications to ‘Lord Westmoreland’, the ‘Hereditary Sheriff’ of the county, along with Thanet’s coat of arms. A potted narrative of the properties’ antiquarian credentials and crucially how they came to be in his possession – via an unambiguous and legitimising line of blue-blooded inheritors – is inscribed at bottom right. Appleby, for example, was a gift from England’s own King John to Thanet’s ancestor for loyal service to the crown.

As Antiquities developed over 17 sets, the proportion of privately owned ruined edifices decreased in favour of views of inhabited inherited seats: historic buildings of antiquarian interest but nonetheless depictions of private houses lived in by the present generation of family.[11] As print historian Tim Clayton has shown, this development is likely owed to the Bucks persuading landowners to fund the costs of drawing and engraving their houses in exchange for the prestige of having their property included in the series.[12] The Bucks’ Antiquities series arguably becomes more about ‘the celebration of property’, as Kennedy notes, than the immortalisation of ancient and venerable sites for purposes of posterity.[13]

[1] For Samuel Buck’s early sketches see British Library, London: Lansdowne MS. 914; see also MS Facsimile 876, ‘Samuel Buck's Yorkshire Sketchbook’ reproduced in facsimile from Lansdowne MS. 914 with an introduction by Ivan Hall (Wakefield: Wakefield Historical Publications, 1979); for handbills see Lansdowne MS. 895, f.135, Stowe MS. 1046 ff.16, 114b; for sketches in extra-illustrated albums see, for example, Add MS. 32366, 32371, 32374 where Buck’s sketches of Leeds Castle, Saltwood and Walmer were collected by J.W. Jones to extra illustrate his edition of Hasted’s History of Kent.

[2] Ralph Hyde, A Prospect of Britain: The Town Panoramas of Samuel and Nathaniel Buck (London: Pavilion Books, 1994), p.32.

[3] Strutt quoted in Hyde, Prospect of Britain, p. 7.

[4] Lansdowne MS. 914, ‘Another volume of Mr. Warburton's collections for Yorkshire, containing a great many views of towns, ruins, gentlemen's seats, &c. chiefly pen and ink sketches, several of which are very neatly executed’.

[5] Stukeley quoted in Hyde, Prospect of Britain, p. 18.

[6] Hyde, Prospect of Britain, p. 18, footnote 30 [p. 35]

[7] Nicholas Blundell (1669-1737), a Lancashire landowner from Little Crosby, wrote in his diary that ‘Nathaniall Buck came to see if I would subscribe to his Proposalls for Publishing the perspective views of some old Abbies and Castles &c: in Lancash: Cheshire: and Darby-shire’ quoted in Hyde, Prospect of Britain, p. 19. The subscription list for the first Yorkshire Antiquities series shows the Earl of Hertford (elected President of the of the Society of Antiquaries in 1725), the Earl of Winchelsea (Stukeley’s friend, pupil and patron who became the Society’s Vice President in 1725), Viscount Tyrconnel (elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1740), the Duke of Montague (Fellow from 1725 and Stukeley’s patron from 1741-2).

[8] Robert Sayer, Preface to his edition of Bucks’ Antiquities and Towns, 3 vols, London 1774, vol.I, p. v.

[9] Samuel Buck, ‘Proposals for Publishing…Twenty Four Views of Castles…in the Counties of Lincoln and Nottingham’, 1 November 1726, quoted in Hyde, Prospect of Britain, p. 19.

[10] Andrew Kennedy, ‘Antiquity and Improvement in the National Landscape: the Bucks’ Views of Antiquities 1726-42’, Art History, vol.25, no.4, September 2002, pp.488-99, p. 490.

[11] Kennedy writes that there is about a 20% increase in the number of inhabited house views by the fifth set (1730); see ‘Antiquity and Improvement’, p. 490.

[12] See Tim Clayton, ‘Publishing Houses: Prints of Country Seats’ in Dana Arnold (ed.), The Georgian Country House: Architecture, Landscape and Society (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998), pp. 45-9. 

[13] Kennedy, ‘Antiquity and Improvement’, p. 490.

  • Alice Rylance-Watson
  • Alice Rylance-Watson is Transforming Topography Research Curator at the British Library. She is also a Cataloguer at Tate Britain, working on the sketchbooks, drawings and watercolours of JMW Turner.